Black Mountain Trail To The Fire Lookout Idyllwild Ca

Black Mountain Trail to the Fire Lookout (Idyllwild, CA)

In This Guide
  • Video & Turn by Turn Black Mountain Trail Directions
  • How to Get to the Black Mountain Trail
  • Everything You Need to Know To Prepare for the Hike
Total Distance8 miles (12.9 km)
Hike Time4-5 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)2,820 feet (860m)
Highest Elevation7,772 feet (2369m)
Fees & PermitsNone
Dogs AllowedLeashed
Alerts & Closures (?)San Jacinto Ranger District
Park Phone909-382-2921

Located just outside of Idyllwild, CA in San Bernardino National Forest, the Black Mountain Trail hike to the fire lookout is a hidden gem. Often overshadowed by hikes like Tahquitz, it offers a healthy mountain climb, great panoramic views, a fire lookout, AND a secret grove of Giant Sequoia trees. You heard that correctly.

Getting to the Trailhead

First off, there are about 50 million “Black Mountain Trails” out there, so make sure you are using the one designated as 2E35 in San Bernardino National Forest before the GPS routes you to South Dakota. Use this trailhead address:
Black Mountain Trail 2E35, 4S57, 2E35, Banning, CA 92220

Black Mountain Trail Directions 2
The trailhead turnoff isn’t obvious, but there are road signs in both directions for the trailhead.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 3
There’s a small dirt road up an incline to the parking area. You can do it in any vehicle if you go slow.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 4
The parking lot is big, but usually fills up as the day goes on. The trailhead is at the far end of the lot. You don’t need any parking pass here according to the SBNF website.

There are no bathrooms or water at the trailhead.

Gear For the Hike

The trail is a legit mountain climb, so you should use proper hiking gear on this hike. Trekking poles help you going up and down the steep slopes. Like most of the high mountains of Southern California, in the summer it can get very hot, and in the winter the trail can be covered with snow. Check the conditions before you go.

La Sportiva Spire

I try a lot of hiking boots and shoes, and there are some great options out there, but the La Sportiva Spire is the best combination of comfort, protection, low-weight, and durability. They are waterproof, and the high cuff keeps debris out without the need for a gaiter. Time tested over thousands of miles. Use them with a two-layer sock system to end blisters for good.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: WomenMen

Osprey Talon

On a medium or longer hike I recommend a pack like the Osprey Talon 33 (men) or Osprey Sirrus 36 (women) which is a little bit larger. These packs are on the upper end of the (35L) daypack range, but they only weigh a small fraction more than a pack with less capacity. Having the extra space gives you more flexibility and means you don’t have to jam things in there. I use the space for things like extra layers in the winter, extra water on desert hikes, and even a tent & sleeping bag on overnights.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI (or Amazon).

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated September 2020.

My September 2020 Top Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Black Mountain Trail Maps

Overall the trail is easy to follow, except for the last small stretch before the summit. The trail can get mildly overgrown in places during the spring.

Click Here To View Map

Download the Hike GPX FileView a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

Your best move to navigate this hike is to take a paper map, compass, and a GPS device. Load the GPX track from this hike onto your GPS to ensure that you’re on the trail. I’m a big fan of GPS watches; I just glance down at it to cross-check my position and use paper when I want a deeper dive. The GPS watch that I’m using now is the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (price: REI or Amazon). It’s pricey but has a great battery, accurate GPS, and tons of other wellness, fitness, and smart-watch applications. For a more affordable option, check out the value-packed Garmin Instinct  (price: REI or Amazon), a similar watch without some of the features. There are also great smartphone GPS apps like GaiaGPS. If you end up getting GaiaGPS premium, I’ve arranged for a 20-40% discount for my readers.

Elevation Profile

Black Mountain Trail Elevation
For the most part you’re going up. The middle section feels a little flatter and easier than this elevation profile suggests.

3d Map

Black Mountain Trail 3d Map
The route is an out-and-back hike with a small (optional) loop at the top.

Hike Brief

Black Mountain Trail Directions 31
This hike includes a short visit to Boulder Basin campground. You could overnight here if you’re feeling it. Note that the campground is also accessible by a dirt road.

Black Mountain Trail to the Fire Lookout Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn Directions

Black Mountain Trail Directions 1
The trailhead is at the end of the parking lot. You’re at 5140 feet here.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 5
Right from the gun you start climbing. From the start to the summit you’re climbing about 2600 feet.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 6
After some relatively straight sections, the trail starts to incorporate switchbacks.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 7
And after a short while you’ll emerge from the chaparral and start getting some views.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 8
Big trees! But is it a giant sequoia? Look for bright reddish bark, egg-shaped cones, and scale-like needles. And don’t look for giant trees. Since these were planted in 1974, they should be under 50 feet.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 9
The trail levels off and heads through a boulder field. The next mile or so has some ups and downs, but is not as steep as the beginning.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 10
The trail heads through some sections of vegetation. Most of the hike is in the shade.
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When you cross the granite slab, stay straight and head downhill. There are tracks to the right to a viewpoint but that’s not the trail.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 13
You’ll start getting views of San Gorgonio to your left.

On some maps you’ll see the Cinco Poses Trail coming in from the right. Don’t look for it. Whatever was there is long overgrown.

Black Mountain Trail Directions 14
Soon you’ll come out at a ridge and see Black Mountain in front of you. The next section is slightly downhill along Hall Canyon.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 15
And after 5-10 minutes of easy level trail, you start going up again. From here on out you’ll be climbing until you get to the top. The trail makes some switchbacks as it goes up Hall Canyon.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 16
After crossing the (usually very dry) Hall Creek, the trail becomes more defined and has some nice long switchbacks.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 17
When you get to the saddle with the trail sign, make the hard right. We’ll be coming out here from the campground on the return.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 18
The trail goes slightly uphill.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 19
At the water tank, go to the right.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 20
This is the toughest part of the trail to follow. There’s definitely a trail, but it can get faint at points. It helps to consult the GPX track when in doubt.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 21
After heading west to the cliff, the trail turns left (east) and heads sharply uphill.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 22
As you enter an area of giant granite boulders, you’ll spy the fire lookout above you.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 23
You emerge on the road. Cross over and up the paved path to the summit.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 24
Enjoy the fire lookout. When the campground is open, you’ll be sharing it with folks who drove up and then did the short hike from there.
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Photo opportunity!
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The views from Black Mountain are spectacular. You’ll see Saddleback Mountain, Angeles National Forest, and San Gorgonio.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 27
When you’re done at the summit, head back to the dirt road. You’ll see San Jacinto as you head back to the path.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 28
Hike down the sandy road until you reach the Boulder Basin Campground.

You can also just skip the campground and head back the way you came up.

Black Mountain Trail Directions 29
When you reach the campground, make the first hard left turn. Or take a break at the campground.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 30
There are toilets at the campground, but are usually locked if the campground is closed.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 32
Head up the trail from the left turn, through the gate.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 33
The trail goes gently uphill.
Black Mountain Trail Directions 34
And then you emerge at the saddle where you made the turn to the summit earlier. From here just head back down the way you came.

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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